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Diminishing Dumbara patterns call for revival

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The Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum is home to a striking repertoire of Dumbara designs. The collection which is open to the public only through temporary exhibitions, urges the revival of this fast diminishing traditional form of Lankan art which is described as a kind of ‘artistic meditation.’

by Randima Attygalle

The staff of the Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum treats me to a feast of painstakingly designed exotic dumbara mats, tapestries, cushion covers, purses and much more. I marvel at the skill of the traditional Lankan artisan which is often taken for granted, bargained over, driven to substitute with other means of income today.

Once the staple of the picturesque Dumbara valley (valley of the mist) or Dumbara mitiyawatha, the craft was even sought by royalty. Some of the descendants of the master weavers who enthralled Kandyan monarchs with their art, still labour to keep their family tradition alive in villages of the Dumbara valley such as Thalagune and Menikhinna. They work against many odds. The base for the craft is the hemp leaf (niyanda hana) botanically termed Sansevieria zeylanica which is hard to source today. This drives the weavers to find substitutes such as cotton.

“The difficulty in sourcing traditional inputs and the poor market price for this time consuming craft force many weavers to abandon it. In the olden days, low pit looms were used to weave hemp. Today these are replaced by cotton and standing looms. The natural dyes are today replaced with synthetics,” notes the Director General, Department of National Museums, Sanuja Kasthuriarchchi.

One of the chief keepers of the tangible history of ours, Kasthuriarachchi with her special interest in traditional local arts, moots public-private collaborations to revive this one-of-a-kind Sri Lankan craft. Unless the weavers are offered incentives and assisted to find markets, their art would soon be confined only to museums, she laments. “This environmental-friendly form of art deserves pride of place in homes, offices and hotels and a national boost is necessary.”

The Colombo National Museum’s collection of dumbara designs are a mix of donations and purchases. The entire collection, however, is not meant for public viewing, given the restrictions in exhibiting space. “We do our best to enable public access through our temporary exhibitions from time to time,” says the DG. The collection also facilitates research. They are important for the study of the use of colours, the distinct patterns of fauna and flora and other inherent weaving skills of master weavers.

An intense research on Dumbara craft by the Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum is underway. The community-based research in the traditional weaving villages of Dumbara which was to commence last year was suspended due to the pandemic. Museum officials hope to recommence the project once normalcy returns.

“Today the craft has been diversified and has added handbags, file covers, pencil holders etc. to its portfolio. Yet, unless the craftspeople are given a sense of security including assured markets locally and globally, this craft will not last up to the next generation,” remarks Manoj Hettiarachchi. The Museum’s anthropology curator. Museum officials encourage the public to add to their Dumbara collection.

‘An investment in the national interest, such donated exhibits from private collections will be conserved for posterity. They are treated against possible insect attacksand other hazards.’

The dumbara patterns were perfected by men and women of the kinnaraya caste, notes Ananda Coomaraswamy in his work,
Mediaeval Sinhalase Art. The historian also mentions ballads known as kinnara kavi sung by ancient dumbara weavers.

The labour-intensive fibre-production process is described by Coomaraswamy in his book. The rounded green leaves of the hana plant are gathered and scraped against a log known as the niyanda poruwa with a wooden tool (ge-valla) shaped like a spoke shave. ‘This scraping removes the fleshy part of the leaf, leaving the white fibre, which is oiled and brushed and then ready for use almost immediately. Part of the material is left white, the rest dyed red, yellow or black.’

As Coomsraswamy describes: ‘the red colour is obtained by boiling the fibre with patangi wood, korakaha leaves and gingelly oil or seeds; the yellow from a decoction of venivel; the black with the help of gall nuts, aralu and bulu.’ Added to these three traditionally used natural colours mentioned by Coomaraswamy are an assortment of others including green and blue sourced by artificial dyes.

The loom is described as a ‘low horizontal contrivance’ and the weaver squats on the mat itself, supported by a few flat logs between it and the ground. The pattern is picked up with the weaver’s lathe (vema); this lathe, having an eye at one end, serves as a bodkin called heda liya with which to draw the weft threads through the warp.’

Perfectly plain mats are called pannam kalala, Coomaraswamy documents. These are usually decorated with birds, as is usually are kurullu kalala. Those with a variety of patterns are veda kalala or veda peduru. Among the notable dumbara patterns are toran-petta, tarava,tani-vel iruwa, depota lanuwa, taraka petta, pannam petta, tunpota lanuwa, del geta lanuva and mal gaha. Animal patterns of birds, deer, cobra and elephants were also popular.

Pic credit: Department of National Museums



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Features

Her Majesty The Queen, A Style Legacy

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The familiarity of the hats, the quietly diplomatic choice of brooch, the shocks of colour and the sensible worn-in shoes will remain bastions of the 20th and 21st century style With the close of the modern Elizabethan era, legacy is a word that is reverberating strongly following the news of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s death. She was 96-years-old.

As the role of the monarchy shifted during her 70-year reign, and the entire understanding of its existence was increasingly questioned, Her Majesty remained a popular, recognisable figure of quintessential Britishness. For those of us that have known no other British monarch, we are left with a legacy that will be marked by her inescapable sense of duty to the Crown and country, but also a decidedly strong sense of self and identity that feels singular in a world of chameleonic idols and a quickening trend cycle.

Few before, and likely few after, will have spent as long as a recognisable figure in the public eye, with such a reaching global impact. Like the tone of her reign, Her Majesty’s sartorial approach was informed by a quiet confidence and an assured concept of self that prized personal style over trends and fads. Sure, she might not have had the glamorous allure of a Hollywood star or the subversive ability to shift our notion of dress like others have done, but Her Majesty’s legacy will be a fashion journey that proves a lesson in unwavering integrity of identity.

The Queen’s fashion legacy will also be marked by a savvy, often understated, means of communicating with her people, which dates back to her coming of age in a post-war Britain. Married at Westminster Abbey in November 1947, her wedding dress was assembled using duchess satin bought with ration vouchers. Of course, unlike her peers, it was Norman Hartnell that designed the 13-foot gown, but the message of her purchasing her fabric through this ‘just like us’ nature was one of kinsmanship not lost on a recovering Britain.

Throughout her reign, other fashion choices have needed to be more diplomatic and significant in message. Arriving in Ireland in 2011, the first British monarch to do so in 100 years, the Queen wore a very specific shade of green. Not too emerald, not too bold, it was a careful choice that didn’t assume Her Majesty to be reclaiming Ireland, but instead proved a sensitive homage in the landmark moment.

Other sartorial decisions had a more sentimental attachment. Consider her brooch for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 nuptials. From amongst her wealth of heritage jewels she chose The True Lover’s Knot, the largest in her hefty collection. Its sweet bow-like design was an emblem of the day’s significance in her life as a proud grandmother and for the line of succession.

Brooches, like dress suits, brimmed hats, patent pumps and top-handle Launer handbags, are amongst the pieces that made up Her Majesty’s uniform-like approach to her on-duty wardrobe. A dedicated Monarch, who always placed service first and foremost, it made sense that she treated her approach to dress with such regimented formula. It must also be noted how traditionally feminine these pieces are. The message she sent to the commonwealth and the wider world was one of feminine strength, never intimidated by the meetings of senior dignitaries her diary scheduled or falling victim to needing to dress to ‘keep up with the boys.’

In a more contemporary time, the Queen’s style legacy has impacted nowhere more than in the wardrobes of her family members. As protocol dictates, her tiaras and jewellery have often been borrowed by the family members for wedding days or state affairs, with Princess Beatrice even opting for one of granny’s dresses for her 2020 nuptials, but Her Majesty’s influence extended to the day-to-day too.

Look to the wardrobes of Duchesses Cambridge and Sussex and you’ll notice the Queen’s approach to colour permeating. A long-time fashion tool employed by Her Majesty, it has proven particularly useful in ensuring that royals can be spotted by those even at the farthest end of the waiting crowds. It’s clear to see that Catherine and Meghan have taken note.

The overarching message that the Queen’s wardrobe told was one of a quieter, more subtle influence. It’s long been clear that Her Majesty, who was most happy in her headscarf, Barbour and kilt in the countryside, was never as fussed about the flashier side of royal privilege as perhaps her sister, the Dior-wearing Princess Margaret, was.

For the last 20 years, Angela Kelly has been at the helm of the Queen’s wardrobe, becoming a close confidante of Her Majesty’s in the process. Yet, you couldn’t ever have imagined the pair conspiring — to use a modern glam squad term — to create a ‘moment’ throughout their time working together. As she entered her latter years, the formula that worked didn’t flinch apart from moving through the rainbow. But that’s not to say Her Majesty didn’t have fun with her wardrobe.

With what was arguably the world’s greatest dressing-up box at her disposal, there were flashes of experimentation and brilliance that hinted at a bolder experimentation. Think harlequin sequins, floral turbans or diaphanous candy pink gowns and fur stoles paired with dazzling diadems and parures. But the greatest smiles and moments of clear sartorial satisfaction were when Her Majesty was buttoned up in her cardigans, her signature neat perm wrapped in an Hermes scarf and heading out into the Highlands.

Though fashion is quick to praise reincarnation, Her Majesty will be celebrated for her opposite approach. The familiarity of the hats, the quietly diplomatic choice of brooch, the shocks of colour and the sensible worn-in shoes will remain bastions of the 20th and 21st century in style, no matter what else moved quicker or louder around it. The phrase style icon is too often touted or wasted on those that have spent little more than 18 months in the public eye, but, when it comes to Her Majesty The Queen, here is a chance to use it for all its worth. – Elle Mag

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Features

Mexico’s DJs make waves in Colombo

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Leading DJs from Mexico who have entertained crowds across Europe, North and South America, Marisol and Ivonne Grajales were touring Sri Lanka recently, storming some of Colombo’s most happening venues. The sisters, who have spun their vibrant sounds to full houses and performed at epic DJ sets across the world including the USA, Brazil, Honduras, Ecuador, Germany and Spain; kept the Sri Lankan party set grooving at some of the most exciting night spots in town over the last two weeks.

Marisol is ranked seventh as a DJane in Mexico and 38th in North America, has a degree in music production and released 12 singles which are featured on Beatport and Traxsource.

They performed at venues around Colombo including at The Love Bar, Industri, Botanik, Kava, The Travelling Bruncher and the Flamingo Breeze Pool Party, the latter which has fast become a trendy, sought after monthly event. In addition, Marisol and Ivonne spun discs at the chilled-out Sunday Smooth Drunch. Both these events were at the poolside of Cinnamon Grand.

The DJ sisters performed at C VIBES with renowned Sri Lankan artistes – ACE, Clifford, TrevD, Binu, Madaid and Shan. C VIBES is an entertainment entity which curates and hosts events at popular venues in Colombo which includes a roster of international DJs and artistes performing at select venues and a number of exciting party additions which promise great revelry and celebrations.

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Features

The future of shopping in Kandy

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Softlogic Holdings PLC launched its newest retail development – ‘ODEL Mall Kandy’, recently The 91,414 sq ft retail development is poised to be Kandy’s most sought-after state-of-the-art, premium lifestyle shopping destination situated at the heart of Sri Lanka’s hill capital.

Located at , Sirimavo Bandaranaike Mawatha, Peradeniya Road, Kandy, the retail development will house a premium collection of Softlogic’s most celebrated brands such as ODEL (the largest fashion retailer in Sri Lanka, that hosts an array of world renowned international fashion, jewellery, skincare and lifestyle brands); Baskin Robbins (the world’s largest chain of specialty ice cream operating over 5,000 parlours in 50+ countries); GLOMARK (Sri Lanka’s first inspirational global market which aims at revolutionising the country’s modern retail trade landscape; and POPEYES (one of the world’s leading fast-food chains)

The retail mall will in-turn launch two fast-popular brands, for the first time in Kandy – GLOMARK – which houses the widest selection of items sourced across the globe and uses the best of modern storage facilities, design and upgraded technology for a superlative consumer experience; and POPEYE’s – known for its signature slow cook method where fresh, locally sourced, chicken is marinated for 12 hours with a rich blend of proprietary seasoning and spices, and thereafter hand battered and breaded to produce chicken that is juicy on the inside while retaining a crispier crust on the outside, transporting customer taste buds to the wholesome goodness of Louisiana.

Commenting on the announcement, Chairman, Softlogic Holdings PLC – Ashok Pathirage stated: “We are pleased to announce the launch of ODEL Mall Kandy, which has been met with much excitement and support by the local community within Kandy and Kurunegala. Through the introduction of the mall, we look to enhance the retail and entertainment experiences available to both residents and tourists of this sacred and famous city.”

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